Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
This morning, we reflected on the first temptation of Christ, where Satan states that if Jesus is the Son of God, he will be able to turn stones into bread to break his fast. Together, we saw how this first temptation 1) mirrored the testing of Israel in the desert, and 2) was an invitation for Jesus to exploit his messianic status through satanic means–in other words, to assert his power and glory for his own selfish ends, rather than out of love and commitment to the Father’s will. Jesus was able to resist the first temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, showing that the bedrock of his self-identity is trust in the Father’s provision, even though this trust will eventually lead him to the Cross, to be offered up as the true Bread of Heaven broken to give life to the world.
This evening’s examination of the second temptation of Christ will follow the same pattern. The second temptation also mirrors the testing of Israel in the desert, and it also invites Jesus to exploit his power for selfish and satanic ends. Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem, to the top of the Temple, and tells Jesus to throw himself down, because if he truly is the Messiah then God will make sure that he escapes without harm.
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:7.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses warned the next generation of Israelites not to “bring the Lord your God to the test, as you did at Massah.” What is Moses referring to here?
In Exodus 17:1-7, the Israelites had just begun to receive manna from God as food for their daily needs. But they continue complaining and grumbling, because now they believe that there will be no water for them and they will die of thirst.
The hearts of the Israelites are restless and insecure. Though God has already shown them His presence and provision through the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of daily manna to feed them, they still do not trust that God will see to their needs. They want to test God, to see if He truly is with them. God instructs Moses to strike a rock so that water will come out of it, so that the people can drink water. Moses does so, and he names the place “Massah and Meribah.”
This is the temptation Satan is inviting Jesus into. Is God truly with Jesus, or is Jesus simply some tragic, delusional wanderer who sadly believes that he is meant to suffer to save the world? Why not test God to find out before going through all the trouble?
The Father is sending Jesus into an excruciating death, where he will be stripped of all dignity and mocked as he suffocates under the pressure of his own collapsed chest. Will God rescue and vindicate him? How can Jesus trust a Father that would lead him to that end?
Wouldn’t it be easier to throw himself down from the Temple and be rescued by angels? He would assure himself that the Father truly was with him. And such a spectacle would undoubtedly attract a crowd. Such a miracle would compel belief and demonstrate that he truly is God’s chosen king.
But being the Son means obedience to the Father’s will, not twisting the Father to support his own agenda. By resisting Satan’s temptation, Jesus shows that he is the true Son that Israel could not be. What’s more, being the Son means being struck down so that God can water the world with his life. As the apostle Paul writes:
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4.
Jesus Christ did not test God, even though he would be struck down in his innocence to water a New Creation. Jesus Christ is not just the true Israel; He is the true Massah and Meribah, the struck rock that proves to a disbelieving world that God loves and will provide.
Because Jesus did not test the Father to see if He was truly with him, we who have been bought by Jesus no longer have any need to test the Father. Jesus was the perfect obedient Son that we are called to be and continually fail to be. Out of love, Jesus took on the curse of our disobedience so that despite our failure, we can enjoy the blessings of his obedience.
Because of Jesus’ triumph over the Devil, we can trust in the presence and provision of the Father when we see the water and blood gushing from Jesus’ pierced side–water and blood that slakes our thirst, and that gives us New Life.